Materials and Techniques (Easel Painting) 12-01-2004
We will first
consider the change from tempera to oil and ask why it took place.
Egg tempera painting was the basic technique used in the 14th Century in Tuscany
by artists such as Giotto.
The technique was exacting – the panel was made absolutely smooth before the
tempura was applied. To ensure its absolute smoothness many layers from a coarse
gesso grosso to a final fine gesso sottile were applied otherwise the tempura would flake off.
Tempura paintings were often gilded but this died out when oil painting took off as it
was anti-realistic. During the 15th Century realism became increasingly important.
Tempera is a problematic medium with few benefits. It is very “blond” and works well in low light conditions. Note
that in the detail of Giotto’s panel the egg tempera is painted in thin strips as the tempera dries very quickly. To produce a changing tonality it
was built up as a sequence of hatched lines. It was similar to the problem faced
by a mosaicist — you cannot get a smooth transition from dark to light. Painters got better — they used more water and less egg to enable blending but then it lacks a strong pigment and colour.
For example, Simone used a refined technique which is much better than Giotto although not much later (1333 compared to 1330). It shows a technical complexity and brilliance.
It was painted using dilute tempera.
Effect of tempera on tonality – a blond cast was typical of the procedure used. Cellini talks about the system needed,
e.g the way to build up folds from dark to light colours. See Lorenzo Monaco in
National Gallery. This blond cast could be produced using oils but artists didn’t want to, they used oils to represent dark tones.
Skin was painted using a green underpaint which sometimes shows through. Cennini has a formula for painting faces,
namely to use farm eggs for painting heads of the elderely as they are yellowier.
St. Stephen – with stones on head as symbols, carrying cross of St. John (red on white, normally associated with St. George). St. Peter always has a high forehead. “Alice bands” of hair.
St. Peter in tonsured but should not be as he is not a priest. It is just the
routine way the late Gothic painter had come to represent St. Peter.
During 15th Century there is increasingly the need to express human emotion.
- Lippi workshop’s silverpoint drapery study. One of the major Florentine painters of 1450/60’s.
- Perugino drawing shows light tempura feeling (although he tended to point in oil).
- Verrochio drawing is heavier and represents feeling of oils (although he tended to paint in tempura).
- Bellini started in tempera (1460), pieta cold, barren feeling resulting from tempura but results in ridge down the arm, a faceting quality.
- See great tempera (1470) pieta in Brera, a powerful, expressive painting but it seems to cry out for a new technique. This comes a few years later (Pieta, 1473, Vatican) built us from oil glazes makes colours stronger, warmer and deeper and more resonant and richer. You cannot get the spread and flow of oil with tempera. e.g. Monaco would not have tried to create a group such as Bellini’s 1473 Pieta.
Initially we believed oil glazes were used over tempera but the scientific analysis is still being done. The NG leads the world in this analysis and they are very cautious. The Hermitage has done very little so far so we have a lot to learn. 1430 van Eyck didn’t need a tempera base but when it moved to Italy they started with tempera.
Cennini’s oil glaze over tempera was recommended to suggest velvet. Tempera is very poor however at suggesting texture.
Not untill the late 15th Century was pure oil painting done. See van Ezek representation of brocade and fur, a marvellous piece of painting, 1435.
It fascinated Piero de Francesca. We don’t know were he got this – maybe Rogier van de Weyden who was good (although of not as good as van Eyck). See brocade painting in mid-15th Century painting by Uccello (?) using gold leaf, glazed over to produce brocade, van Eyck used pure pigment.
Cennini recommends oil glaze over tempera to get brocade effect. Compare van Eyck’s wife Margarete with Uccello’s portrait. Van Eyck’s is much more naturalistic and he uses textures for visual delight and for establishing status. See the details of the Ghent altarpiece as paradigmatic — an extremely complex work, some done by Jan some by brother (name?). It can create a very faithful representation of minerals as well as fur, cloth and brocade. It is very difficult in tempera as the surfaces are flat. Jewellery was very important to Italians.
Piero della Francesca, detail of St. Michael in NG, notice the change in effect of light across the skirt. It is very sophisticated. See Pollaiuolo brothers, not bound to technique used by painters. 30 yrs after van Eyck. Recently found to be
an oil painting. They were freer to adopt the new oil techniques as they were not painters by training. Initially the picture seems dull but remember it is 1446 and look again at the texture, detail and landscape in background. Very extraordinary at the time.
1432 Adam and Eve from Ghent altarpiece. Tonality, rich warmth of colour and depth. Can pick out individual hairs in Adam and Eve detail. The oil painter can be far more sophisticated and so can represent human emotion (but not done here). It was Antonello who went to work with van Eyck according to Vasari, but this is completely wrong as van Eyck died when he was 10. He may have gone to the Netherlands. He did not introduce oil painting in 1475 as Pollaiuolo was using oils in 1465. He seems to have supported the use of oils in Venice. Note hair, eyes and cloth. St Jerome Eyckian style – books, glass carafe, minute detail of rendering. Antonello version in NG – playing with light, silhouettes, the lion, authenticity of context — striving to be van Eyck but it doesn’t really work. Rolin Madonna. one of the great examples of van Eyck. Compare with Antonello San Cassiano altarpiece 1475.
Bellini was working with oils two years before this. Compare harsh tempera Bellini with 1487 (15 yrs after he started with oils) oil painting of Madonna, glows. Compare Antonello Pieta with Bellini. Picture of Messina in background, churches can by recognised even today. See landscape 1475 Pollaiuolo in NG, view of river Arno to sea. Sophisticated tonal changes to suggest space. Could not do this with tempera (and background was gold). The master of early Italian oil painting was Leonardo, he could not have done what he did without oil. (van Eyck was the great master of early oils). Baptism tempera with oil replied, impasto dragged across, very experimental at the time 1471, an almost impressionistic touch. Leonardo was responsible for one angel and landscape (top left). Glowing flesh of angel’s face and detail of hair. 1483 Virgin of the Rocks – first version — here he really develops the oil technique. Very evocative, sometimes too thick causing an unintended dappled effort (because of cracking of surface). Deliberately sets the group in the darkest setting he can find in order to bring the figures out of the picture. See curious phantasy landscape – lighter further back. See group in a lighter landscape Madonna of the Rocks. Took to France to complete but never finished it by 1515 when he died. The ultramarine of St. Annes’s dress has faded.
Filippo Lippi (shop), ‘Drapery study’ c. 1450 (Oxford, Ashmolean) is the slide referred to in the lecture but the one opposite was the closest that could be found.
Study for the head of the Virgin not found so a detail of another painting is shown.
Florentine painter, sculptor and goldsmith
This is one of several drawings, including one on the reverse of this sheet, for the head of a nymph or Venus. The chief study for the nymph is in the Galleria degli Uffizi, Florence, begun by Verrocchio (about 1435-88) and completed by Leonardo, but this drawing is clearly by Verrocchio. The strong outline, heavy – lidded eyes and elaborate hair are all features of Verrocchio ‘s style.
The drawing is a perfect example of the versatility of chalk as a medium for skilful artists in the late fifteenth century. Black chalk has been used softly to suggest the gentle shadows on her cheeks, while white chalk heightens the fall of light. Verrocchio was a sculptor as well as a painter, and his feeling for three – dimensional form is apparent here in the careful shading that creates a sense of volume. Her hair is thin and wispy and is drawn in rapid, thin strokes. When not in elaborate braided patterns and knots, it falls in curls over her shoulders.
Giorgio Vasari, in his Life of Verrocchio, describes similar drawings of women ‘s heads which he kept in his own collection. He added that Leonardo da Vinci, Verrocchio ‘s most famous pupil, frequently imitated such drawings.
Slide 17: Giovanni Bellini, Piet� (Correr), c.1460
Piet�. c. 1455-60. Wood panel, 52×42 cm. Academia Carrara, Bergamo, Italy
Jan van Eyck. Portrait of Margaret van Eyck, Artist’s Wife(?). 1439. Oil on wood. Stedelijk Museum voor Schone Kunsten, Bruges, Belgium.
Slide 30: Piero della Francesca, St Michael (NG)
An inventory of 1492 records this painting hanging in the scrittoio of Lorenzo il Magnifico. It was painted for Cardinal Albergati (died 1443), who is identifed in the inscription on the letter on the table.
The books and other objects relate both to the saint ‘s intellectual pursuits and to religious symbolism. The jar labelled tyriaca (an antidote for snakebite) surmounted by a pomegranate (a symbol of the resurrection) refers to Christ as the saviour of the world.
The influence of this work can be seen in Ghirlandaio ‘s fresco of St Jerome (1481) in the Ognissanti.
Slide 39: Antonello, St Jerome (NG), c.1465?